Thanks to the rise of the “gig economy” and a growing disinterest among young workers for the traditional nine-to-five day job, the way Americans think about work was evolving even before the chaos of the coronavirus shutdowns. The events of 2020, and the massive economic disruptions it has brought, has only further accelerated this trend—which could actually be good news for the more entrepreneurial individuals in America’s workforce.
The changes we’ve seen in 2020 have been dramatic. For some, the mass migration to virtual workplaces, and the independence that comes with it, has allowed them the freedom to better integrate their personal and professional lives—something they will not readily give up in years to come. Of course, others were not so lucky. Many of the workers hit hardest by the government-imposed shutdowns were in lower-income industries where remote work is not even possible—meaning they didn’t experience a transformation in how they work, but instead found themselves unable to work at all.
For these workers, seeking out new opportunities—often in new industries—might be considered the only viable path toward rebuilding financial security. For some it might mean embarking on a new career or dabbling in the gig economy, while others might even see an opportunity to reinvent themselves as aspiring small business owners or “solopreneurs.”
It is precisely this kind of entrepreneurial spirit and workplace independence that is crucial to driving a recovery as robust and diverse as the one currently needed. After all, the act of rebuilding from economic downturns has always been up to those Americans who have the opportunity, creativity and boldness needed to set out on new paths and reimagine their way of earning a living.
And while we have plenty of bold and creative individuals in our local communities, government has an uncanny ability to decimate the opportunities needed for such entrepreneurship to take root. New taxes, harsh licensing requirements (even in low-income professions), and regulatory attacks on the gig economy are striping opportunity from those who need it the most.
In Nevada, workers looking to change careers or reinvent themselves will find a decidedly hostile regulatory environment. The Institute for Justice ranks Nevada as the 2nd worst in the nation for licensure burdens—meaning many workers simply cannot afford the government permission-slips necessary to change careers, build their own business or contract out their expertise. In some cases, the situation is even more dire, with politicians actively working to regulate away less-than-traditional opportunities for workers. In 2019, California lawmakers passed a law (AB5) that effectively outlawed the non-traditional work arrangements that make the gig economy so successful. Nevada lawmakers are already considering similar proposals here in the Silver State.
Indeed, at a time when entrepreneurship is not only needed more than ever, but also poised to be more plentiful thanks to the evolution of the American workplace, government seems intent on stamping it out. Thankfully, however, the American public is far more defensive of entrepreneurship and workplace independence than the political class is. In the 2020 election, California voters showed up en masse to pass a proposition that effectively gutted the legislature’s ill-advised attempt to stifle the gig economy.
Such a win for workers demonstrated that the entrepreneurial spirit embedded in the American DNA is not going away anytime soon. Even in a decidedly progressive state such as California, there remains a grassroots belief in empowering workers with the opportunity to pursue the livelihoods they choose—a basic freedom that is necessary for an economic recovery in 2021 and beyond.
In the months ahead, as the Nevada Legislature grapples with how best to deal with the economic consequences of quarantining an entire state during a pandemic, it would do well to realize the crucial role entrepreneurship will play. Occupational licenses and arbitrary barriers to entering new job markets should be torn down. The gig economy should be left to flourish without governmental micromanaging. And the freedoms necessary for bold, creative, and ambitious individuals within Nevada’s workforce to seek out new opportunities must be preserved. The future—and our economic recovery—will belong to the ordinary Nevadans who have an entrepreneurial drive to think differently and take chances. Politicians should focus on getting out of their way.
Michael Schaus is the Communications Director at Nevada Policy Research Institute.